Project Deliverable Timelines + Expectations

Hey everyone,

I am working my first job out of school (aside from various internships I completed while in school) at a company where I am a single internal designer, who works with a few outside designers. I really love what I am doing and have had awesome opportunities thus far and have learned a lot from the designers I work with. One thing I was curious about is if anyone would be able to share approximate times for tasks that they complete. For instance, how long do you take to sketch concepts for a product? etc. My gut tells me “it depends” but my org has been inquiring so they can accurately gauge timelines with the product manager (engineering background) and sales, etc. It would be great to know generic project timelines, if you are able to share.


Good question, and a smart one to ask so early in your career. If you get proficient in tracking time spent, then you can better forecast how long projects will take, the more projects that you do, the more accurately you will become and estimating your time. This is valuable information to the money people and it can help you make cases for all sorts of things like faster design tools, scaling project scope, or even hiring more designers.

The answer really is “it depends”, and some of the things it depends on are the type of product and the scope of the project.

Ambiguous design criteria can be a blessing and a curse, if it is too ambiguous you may start to feel like you are designing in circles and spending more time concepting than you probably need to be, if you are designing for people who say “I’ll know it when I see it”, then expect to waste lots of time. When design criteria is overly detailed and defined then you may start to feel like there’s no room for creativity and exploration, however you will spend less time. So, think about how project scope and criteria is defined, I myself prefer to be handed a business problem to be solved and a given set of parameters and good customer research (or do the research myself, which I would also track time on).

If you aren’t doing so already, I would recommend that you start tracking your time for all tasks, that includes meetings and time spent on revisions and design changes. I might also recommend marking your revision and design change hours with who requested them. This way, if there is an individual or group that chronically requests an inordinate amount of design changes you will have data to make a case that they are a resource drain, again, this sort of data can help make decisions on a process change or hiring more design resources rather than just saying so-and-so wastes tons of your time, you’ll have stats to back that up and hold some folks accountable.

For example, you might only spend 12 hours on some solid concepts, but end up spending 60 hours on revisions, that might raise some flags.

There’s all sorts of time tracking tools out there, I don’t have any good recommendations, but whatever you use to do this I would recommend making it a habit and stay on top of it.

If you can tell us more about the types of products you’re designing, then there’s likely someone here on Core77 that can give more advice than “it depends”

It really varies on the project and the rest of your workload, but working linearly, here is the rule of thumb I use:

design research: 4-5 weeks depending on complexity
research synthesis and cross disciplinary workshop: 1-2 weeks
initial concept archetype exploration with down select session: 2-3 weeks
product concept sketching: 2 weeks
concept refinement: 2 weeks
design CAD: depends on how complex and how much internals have being worked in parallel
final design model production: 4-5 weeks
design revisions and CMF: 2 weeks
design for production: this can be long depending on where engineering is in the process but ideally 3-4 weeks
design oversight of NPD: until MP1 (typically 12 months)

Obviously other things can be done in parallel. The most intense time being up front from research to CMF documentation. Call that 3-4 months.

Not only does it depend on the project, and the team/skills, it depends on the organization. I’ve worked in pretty lean organizations with a solid/experienced team and would say things got done in 50% of the time as above. As a consultant, I might do the work in 1/3 of the time.

If you track things out, you might be surprised to see how long “actual work” takes, vs. time spent talking about it, meeting about it, planning the planning process for it, tracking it, etc.

In a larger organization with a big team and management/review structure things could easily take 200%+ of the above.

I recall interviewing once in a large multinational organization and presenting some work my team (of 3 including myself) had done. The interviewers commented that the work was great and asked about the other teams involved and how many years the project had taken. They were shocked when I told them that we had done everything from product planning, to design, development, marketing, packaging, etc. from initial plan to retail in a 9 month window. They told me that it would have taken them 1.5 years typically using 3-4 teams (marketing, design, development, etc.) of 5-10 people each.

So… yup. It depends.


When I worked with a consultant, I was shocked at the amount of time I spent (and by extension, the consultant) on communications and misunderstandings. Distance always increases delays except when you need alot of hands at one time.

I find Yo’s estimates are pretty safe. Although, remember that NPD is inherently variable and therefore difficult to predict. I can time a person screwing an enclosure together and by the 10th time they do it have a good idea of how long it takes. That’s simply impossible to do with a any accuracy in NPD.

Thank you for all of the feedback guys I really appreciate it! Yo, the detailed layout was very helpful and I plan to use it as a somewhat baseline. Because I am an only designer, I get a ton of requests which have to be filtered through our product manager but what it comes down to is “how long will this take you?” I do my best to try to predict this but I am trying to put together a guide that people can look at that will give them an idea of time allowances to expect.

Yo - I do have a question “research synthesis and cross disciplinary workshop: 1-2 weeks” I understand fully what you mean by synthesis, but can you explain a bit about the cross disciplinary workshop?

Typically after research and research synthesis I like to have a workshop that includes representatives from sales, marketing, engineering, design and executive stakeholders. I usually schedule 2-3 days for this and a week of prep ahead of time. The first half of the first day will be a read out of the research synthesis to act as a grounding set of data for the session. Then I’ll have 2 days of mental activities planned to generate ideas, starting with the broadest ideas and getting down to brass tacks of what is implantable and desirable. Out of this we will output a recap document showing the agreed upon ideas to pursue.

The benefits of this are two fold, you get good alignment through every group before pen hits paper, and each group feels as if they participated in the product creation process at the very start making approvals easier down the line. In actuality I typically have a design only session to pre develop some ideas so the deck is a little stacked. :slight_smile:

Great! This is wonderful. I also try to get people to feel a part of the process, whether or not they truly are. For instance I will take a poll something like “Which of these three designs are your favorite” once I have narrowed down my concepts with other already. I feel this makes the culture a bit closer and adds value in getting people involved. Although I may not always choose what they say, It still makes them feel good. Thanks again for your input, its very much appreciated!

What do these two steps of the process involve? Also, I’m not familiar with MP1/MPI whichever it is.

Product archetypes is a fancy way of same form factors. Usually some quick explorations showing where internal components might be located and how that impacts the architecture of the design. This might include use cases that show where relevant grips might be, interaction patterns, things like that. Basically it is a phase to get stake holders aligned on some of the critical parameters and lock in some basics about the product.

MP1 = Mass Production 1, the first run of product. Sometimes clients only want concepts, sometimes they want to go all the way to production files, sometimes they want design direction through the first prototype (golden sample), sometimes all the way to MP1. Different clients need different things based on their capabilities and band width. I try to show them the entirety of what we can do and then work with them to figure out what they need.

Super, thanks yo!